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Unlocking the Secrets of TMJ: Understanding Jaw Pain

Published: 23 Apr 2024

Unlocking the Secrets of TMJ: Understanding Jaw Pain

So, you’re wondering about TMJ dysfunction, right? Let’s break it down. The Temporomandibular Joint, or TMJ for short, is basically where your jawbone meets your skull. It’s a pretty busy joint, involved in talking, chewing, yawning, and all sorts of facial expressions. Inside the joint, there’s this little cartilaginous disc that helps (or sometimes hinders) the movement of your jaw. And there are these four main muscles that do the heavy lifting when it comes to chewing and moving your jaw around.

The TMJ links the jawbone to the skull. It includes the mandibular condyle, temporal bone, articular disc, ligaments, and muscles. Synovial fluid lubricates the joint. TMJ issues cause pain and jaw movement problems known as TMJ dysfunction.

Types of TMJ issues

Now, TMJ dysfunction is actually pretty common, affecting about 10% of Australian adults. It can fall into three main categories:

  • issues with the joint itself,
  • problems with the muscles around the jaw, and
  • headaches that come along with TMJ troubles.

While direct trauma can cause it, most of the time, the exact cause isn’t crystal clear. Recent studies suggest it’s a mix of things like anatomy, how things are working inside the joint, and even your mental state.

There are a bunch of things that could make you more likely to have TMJ issues, like inflammation in the joint, dental work messing with your jaw mechanics, or just getting older and having wear and tear on your TMJ. Even stuff like stiff necks or grinding your teeth can play a role. Stress and anxiety might make it worse too. And one person I know damaged their TMJ while clenching their teeth during childbirth ????.

What does a painful TMJ feel like?

So, when your TMJ isn’t happy, you might feel all sorts of things, like pain around your jaw or even headaches that shoot up to your temples or the back of your head. Your jaw might feel stiff or even lock up, and you might hear clicking or popping sounds when you move it. Plus, there could be other weird symptoms like earaches, neck stiffness, or twitchy facial muscles.

What can you do about your TMJ issues?

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to tackle TMJ issues. Your first stop might be a dentist, especially if you’re dealing with toothaches or cavities that could be messing with your jaw. Physiotherapy can also be a big help. We will check out your neck and jaw, see how everything’s moving, and figure out what’s causing the problem. We can do things like massage your jaw muscles, work on stiffness in your neck and jaw, and give you tips for managing stress. Some people even look into botox injections, but there’s evidence that physiotherapy techniques like manipulation or dry needling can be just as effective and less invasive.  

You can book into see one of our team.

Tom Hamilton, our Principal Physiotherapist at Mount Annan is assessing TMJ pain.